Food is such an agonizing subject. Most people have a love/hate relationship with it. Some people are constantly on diets and must restrict their food intake, making food the enemy. Other “foodies” can’t get enough of the delectable bites served at gourmet restaurants. My own relationship with food makes me wonder how giant orca whales can survive on krill, tiny shrimp-like crustaceans measuring a mere two inches long; or how cows can feel sated by grazing on grass all day. I need at least three square meals a day with various sides, desserts and noshes.
If you view the cable networks, you’ll see a plethora of food shows. I’ll admit, I’ve tried some of their recipes, but mainly, I stick to the tried and true Italian recipes I watched my grandmothers and my mother prepare over the years.
I hosted a dinner party at my home a while back. I made lasagna, and it seemed to be a big hit; and I must admit, it was one of the best I ever made.
One of my friends who attended the party asked if I would show her how to make the sapid pasta dish. I set up a date for her to come to my home for a lasagna lesson, and we decided to invite two of our good friends to join us.
I had prepared a meat sauce the day before the lesson, since that is a time-consuming task and I knew my friends would quickly want to get into the actual making of the dish.
A pot with salted water was boiling on the stove when my “students” arrived. They watched as I dumped a one-pound box of lasagna noodles into the water.
“Don’t cook the noodles all the way,” I warned, “as they will continue to cook in the oven after you prepare the lasagna. Also, don’t use the no-cook squares of pasta. Cooking is a process, not a shortcut.” I was really getting into the lesson.
As my friends mixed together ricotta cheese with two eggs, a handful of grated cheese, a handful of dried parsley and some salt and pepper to taste, I explained that every Italian who makes lasagna has a different method and perhaps an additional ingredient or two, but that I was showing them exactly what I learned from my family. I explained that I didn’t learn to cook with actual measurements; my hands and eyes were the only measuring tools I needed.
Next, they grated the mozzarella cheese. The al dente (firm to the tooth) lasagna noodles were taken out of the boiling water, run under cold water and draped over the edge of the pasta pot so they would cool without sticking to each other, just like grandma used to do. We then began assembling the dish.
A thin layer of meat sauce was spread on the bottom of a lasagna or roasting pan. My friends were gracious enough to show genuine interest as I placed a layer of noodles lengthwise in the pan. A layer of ricotta mixture was spread on top of the noodles, then several hands full of mozzarella. Grated cheese was liberally sprinkled on top of that, followed by ladles of meat sauce. That was the first layer.
The process continued as I placed the next layer of noodles on top, but this time in a vertical direction, thereby insuring that when the cooked lasagna was cut into squares and served, it would maintain its shape.
The crisscrossing of the layers continued for about four layers, ending with a final layer of noodles, meat sauce and mozzarella. Our work of art was complete and placed in the oven at 350 degrees for about thirty minutes, and then allowed to rest for twenty minutes before serving and devouring the gooey goodness.
It’s always a treat for me to get together with these fun-loving ladies, but that day was extra special for me, as I was able to show them a glimpse of my heritage and my family recipe. We sat around the table and ate the fruits of our labor. The lasagna lesson was a success!